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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why we read Karl Ove Knausgaard

If we read fiction in order to gain consciousness of the consciousness of another - and we do, among other reasons - than it's obvious why everyone should read Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle (I'm now on Volume 2, A Man in Love). Imagine a writers whose "struggle" is to recall, re-create, and write without self-censorship. screen memories, suppression, repression, or obliviation: he is completely fearless in writing about his life, and says ruthless and possibly incredibly embarassing and harmful things about himself and about others, including his wife and children. He's like Proust, no doubt his idol and ideal in many ways, but even more direct - in that Proust certainly steered clear of many topics central to his life, notably homosexuality and anti-Semitism - though conventions were very different a century ago. Knausgaard writes about everything that he can recall in his life in a massive project whose end and goal seems to be self-knowledge (and self-expression) through the examined life. He's less a philosopher than Proust was; though there are some passages of literary beauty and some passages as well of astonishing reflection, much of the series of novels, so far at least, seems to be accurate re-creation of key life events, such as his father's death and his early courtship of his 2nd wife - and sometimes of extremely diurnal events, such as a children's party - which is equally if not more revealing about his inner life: it's the daily life rather than the highlight reels that shows how we really live, I think. Sometimes, readers might wonder why this isn't a memoir - and maybe it is in some ways - but by calling it a novel and facing it as such, not only does KOK have some leeway in choice of events, manipulation of facts, re-creation of dialogue, shifting and masking of names, but he also enables the work to function in broader terms: it's not the story of a life (most memoirs are either of famous people or of ordinary people living under extraordinary conditions - this work is neither, he's typical in many ways, although an extreme in many others - his need for solitude, difficulty in connecting with others, devotion to his craft, self-destructive acts and tendencies) but the story of consciousness unfolding, of what it means to be a person: to read these novels is to understand what it is to "take stock" of a life, and makes each reader, I think, reflect on what it means to have lived a life.

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